Sunday, June 5, 2011

Updates on university presidents, doctor training and military rape

Not really dead -- mortally wounded.
    There has been an onslaught of recent news that is relevant to several of my major posts (basically everything, everywhere, is getting more ridiculous), but three stand out this morning in particular.
    My question, "Are University Presidents Classy, or Just Filthy Rich?" got an answer yesterday (filthy rich), when the man who has been the highest-paid public university president in the country for most of the past 15 years was forced to resign for making asinine remarks (part of a longtime pattern) about religion ( Ironically, he's a Mormon, which ought to make him particularly sensitive to prejudicial remarks about people's faiths.
    He was such a preppy, pranksterish frat boy when we were both students at the University of Utah, I was surprised to learn years later that he had become so successful. Glad-handing! A skill worth cultivating!

    According to the Chicago Tribune, Gee has received $8.6 million in salary and compensation since October 2007, plus $7.77 million in expenses,  including: $813,000 on tailgating events; $895,000 — an average of $23,000 per month — for gatherings at Gee's mansion from April 2008 to June 2011; $10,132 for limo services in cities including Chicago, New York, Washington and Boston, on 16 occasions; $1.1 million in total travel expenses; and $64,000 for bow ties and bow tie-related accessories.
    In an era of skyrocketing tuition and curriculum cutbacks, I think any college president who accepts more compensation than he needs to live comfortably belongs in the same category as Gee:  No class!
    My many articles about appalling dishonesty and priorities among other officials in higher education nationwide got new fodder on Sunday, when the dean of the University of Utah School of Medicine had a cozy sit-down with our local "spokesmodel" news anchor and made several remarks that she knew to be false.

Dean Vivian Lee: cute, smart, deceptive.
    Since July of 2011, Dr. Vivian S. Lee has served as senior vice president for Health Sciences at the University of Utah and CEO of University of Utah Health Care as well as dean of the University’s School of Medicine. 
    Isn't that a bit much? 
    She is responsible for an annual budget of more than $2.3 billion; a healthcare system comprising four hospitals, numerous clinical and research specialty centers like the Huntsman Cancer Institute and John Moran Eye Center, a network of 10 neighborhood health centers, an insurance plan, and over 1,200 board certified physicians; and five colleges including the School of Medicine, the College of Nursing, Pharmacy, Health, and most recently, Dentistry.
    No wonder she can't keep her facts straight.
    Or is her obvious willingness to spout blatant untruths -- in such an energetic, forthright, delightful manner -- her secret to success? I hate it when women in power wreak the same havoc on social priorities and economic justice as men do (
    Lee recently seduced the Utah Legislature into giving the medical school yet another $10 million (on top of the hundreds of millions it already receives) in order, she said, to train more primary care doctors. She implied that the U. is dedicated to resolving the shortage -- which is rapidly becoming a crisis -- especially since Utah is fourth from the bottom nationally in primary care doctors per capita. She ardently made her case for what seemed like a moral as well as a practical cause.
    She referred to this victory during her interview on KUTV Channel 2 in Salt Lake City.
    What she failed to disclose is that the U. is 75th nationally in recruiting students who express a desire to practice primary care.
    Last year, there was NOT ONE TAKER for a scholarship that offered a $5,000 reward to any medical student willing to practice primary care medicine for just three years. That is a shocking indicator of how little interest the U. has inspired in this vital field of medicine. 
    Although the need for more primary care doctors has been a critical issue nationally for years, the U. has blithely ignored it.
   The school glamorizes the specialties -- paying professors in those disciplines hundreds of thousands of dollars more than those who teach primary care and family medicine (a professor of orthopedic surgery, for example, was paid $1.3 million in taxpayer funds last year. A professor of family medicine got $125,000). 
    Primary care has always been the "stepchild" of the U's medical school, while the glamorous, high-status, high-paid, high-tech specialties are made ever more alluring.
    Apparently it's not just University of Utah officials who misrepresent their dedication to mobilizing an infusion of devoted primary care doctors into the health-care system. A shocking article, "The Dean's Lie" (, describes how medical-school deans all over the country are making the same urgent appeals to their legislatures for more money, brazenly fabricating the percentage of their graduates who are committed to serving in primary care, and then continuing to relegate primary care to the sidelines. The "dean's lie" expression was coined by Dr. Reid Blackwelder, president-elect of the American Academy of Family Physicians.
    (When I posted "The Dean's Lie" on Lee's University of Utah blog, it was promptly removed. Freedom of speech is so overrated, don't you find? It just upsets people!)
    Only Stanford University, according to one survey, was honest about how many of its medical school graduates actually established primary-care practices after their residencies: two percent (
    Dean Lee also asserted in her television interview that the U.'s medical system has consistently ranked in the top ten nationally. She proudly proclaimed that Utah's program has prominence and superiority that are broadly acknowledged.
    That simply isn’t true -- in fact, it's far from the truth. 
    Utah's is not on the U.S. News & World Report’s “Honor Roll” of top hospitals for 2013, and it never has been, although it does well in several specialties. It isn’t even the highest-ranked hospital in the state. And quality rankings put the U.’s medical school at 48th in the nation – 29th in primary care -- according to the magazine’s study -- nothing to brag about. (It coincidentally ranks as 48th in “top medical schools for research” as well.).
    The U. is not listed among the top 25 teaching hospitals in the nation by Thompson-Reuters. Truven Analytics does not name the U. in its lists of the top 100 hospitals in the country, the top 50 cardiac facilities, or the top 15 health systems, the three areas which it assesses. The U. does not appear on the 20 Best Hospitals in America list released by the Master of Health study. The Medical Resource Group does not place the U. in either of its Top 10 rankings.  It is not on the 2011 HealthGrades list of 50 distinguished hospitals for clinical excellence. It ranks very poorly in some specialties, getting one out of five stars. does not include the U. in its list of the nation’s top 25 medical schools. 
    It's hard to comprehend why Lee would claim such pre-eminence for the U. when she can so readily and decisively be contradicted. It makes you wonder what kind of shenanigans went into her term papers and laboratory research when she was a student.
    I was especially surprised when the dean bragged that the U. was named the best academic medical center in the country three years ago by the University HealthSystems Consortium -- an honor that it touted with great fanfare in an ecstatic advertising campaign -- saying it had outranked the Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins.
    I simply did not believe it.
    My investigation ( revealed that the U. had unethically reverse-engineered the "top secret" Consortium algorithm so it could tweak its data and skew the results to conform with the Consortium’s benchmarks.  When the underhanded tactics and subsequent scandal were revealed, the Consortium ceased its vast and longstanding ranking program. The Consortium now uses U.S. News and Thompson-Reuters studies in its assessment of academic medical centers. 
    Even after this massive embarrassment, the U. was at it again -- just one month later -- claiming that it had been named "first among the region's health care providers" by U.S. News & World Report
   Actually, it had been named the Number One hospital within the Salt Lake metro area, which -- according to the magazine --  encompasses only Salt Lake City and two much smaller municipalities, Ogden and Clearfield. 
   That isn't "the region," which the University knew very well.
   We do seem to have a "truthiness" problem going on here in the Land of Zion. 
   Virtually every statement the dean made in her aggressively promoted five-minute interview was demonstrably false (I assume that she really does have four children and a wonderful husband), but neither the TV station nor the Salt Lake Tribune would give me the opportunity to refute them. The university's National Public Radio-affiliated radio station, KUER, likewise did not find the controversy to be newsworthy. It's heartwarming and damned chivalrous that university people protect each other from negative scrutiny, don't you think?
    Still, I  regard the media's refusal to allow a rebuttal as censorship. The dean misled the taxpaying public on some substantial issues, and her remarks were permitted to stand unchallenged.
    In several posts about American military culture, most recently "Why are 'America's Finest' Rampant Rapists?" (  I have explored the issue of sexual assault (and many other behaviors unbecoming to "an officer and a gentleman" -- you know: porn, drug use, recreational murder, torture, mutilation, desecration, etc.) among our soldiers. There have been dozens of reported rapes in the month since, and several officers assigned to oversee assault-prevention programs have themselves been charged with sexual misconduct.
    Beribboned military officials -- looking unusually limp, pale and hapless sitting in a row at a conference table -- did nothing but make themselves look more ineffectual than ever during Senate hearings this week. They admitted they needed to "get going" on addressing what some senators (and many others) characterize as an "epidemic" of sexual violence in the military, but they refused (how can they refuse?) to allow rape complaints to be removed from the chain of command. They even defended the right of a commanding officer to overturn a conviction of rape "at his personal discretion."
    This morning, when Georgia Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss blamed the whole sordid mess on "hormone levels created by nature," the dudes in uniform must have had a welcome moment of relief. Yep, there sure is enough stupidity to go around.